FARMINGTON — When the University of Maine at Farmington field hockey team opens the game, coach Cyndi Pratt has junior Mara Balboni at left wing. After that, well …

“I’m playing left mid, right mid, right wing,” Balboni said. “Pretty much anywhere she wants to put me.”

Balboni, who grew up in Oakland and graduated from Messalonskee High School, seems to be doing well wherever she plays. She has six goals and one assist for 13 points this season, and the Beavers are 7-5 overall and 3-1 in the North Atlantic Conference.

“In high school, I kind of did the same thing — bounced around depending on the year, who we had, and where I was needed,” Balboni said. “I’m really comfortable anywhere on the field where coach puts me. I think that’s a cool aspect of coach.”

Pratt noticed that versatility while recruiting Balboni, and also noted Balboni’s athleticism and quick feet.

“Katie McLaughlin, who was her coach in high school, played for me here,” Pratt said. “So I just kind of talked to Katie a little bit about her. She’s an education major, so when you hear that combination of a good athlete and wants to be a teacher, it’s certainly somebody that you try to connect with and get them interested in coming here and being part of our program.”

What makes Balboni so valuable is that she gives Pratt more options, allowing her to give other players a rest without having to take Balboni out of the game. In UMF’s most recent game, a 2-0 loss to St. Joseph’s on Tuesday, Balboni played all 70 minutes.

“I think she’s developed consistency and versatility,” Pratt said. “I mean, I’ve used her at midfield. I’ve used her at forward. Just because she is so adaptable at different positions, I’ve been able to move her around other players that might not be so adaptable.”

From her perspective, Balboni would still like to develop as a leader.

“I’m more of a quieter person,” she said. “I think, as people graduate and I become an upperclassman, I can maybe step up my role as being a leader, and kind of model for the younger (players) what Coach expects and what she wants to see during the season.”

There are a considerable number of young players to lead. Out of the 19 players on UMF’s roster, eight are freshmen.

“This year, we have a lot of freshmen — which is good, because we lost a lot of key players,” Balboni said. “I think the underclassmen are really stepping up. Everyone is really friendly on the team. We like each other. I think that really helps. The bonding part translates onto the field.”

As a graduate of Messalonskee, Balboni says she’s been thinking about her community a lot lately. One student, Cassidy Charette, was killed in a hayride accident, and another student committed suicide less than a month earlier.

“I have two siblings that go to Messalonskee currently,” Balboni said. “One’s a senior, and one’s a freshman. They’ve been hit pretty hard by what’s been happening, so I’ve been wanting to be home a lot more with them, and the community. There’s been a lot of Messo support, and it’s nice to be around that.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo


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